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May 26, 2009 09:10 AM

Babbo Review - Short

We arrived at Babbo for dinner at 5:00 on Sunday (May 24th) and were escorted upstairs for dinner. It is clear that the upstairs is reserved for tourists, as people in jeans, polo shirts and shorts were soon to surround us. We, dressed properly for an evening out in jacket and tie and an elegant dress, must have made the mistake of giving the restaurant our out- of- town area code when we made the reservation.

The kir royales we ordered as a pre-dinner cocktail were well prepared and we were advised that the Creme de Cassis was replaced with Chambord, which was a very nice touch. After quite some time deliberating over the menu, we selected the soft shelled crab appetizer and the waiter selected a mushroom crepe. Being a lover of soft shelled crabs (we are from Maryland) I was disappointed that the crab was small, over battered (told that Wondra was used for coating), over cooked and greasy from the frying. The mushroom crepe was nicely presented, the mushrooms well sautéed, but the crepe, seemingly made from whole wheat, was bland did not hold any structure.

The entrees also disappointed. The pairing of lobster with a red sauce over pasta had a heavy taste and the delicacy of the lobster was entirely lost in the dish. The squares of sheet pasta with a Bolognese sauce was lighter, if you can believe that. The pasta was well made, but there was a paucity of Bolognese sauce on the dish, bringing the enjoyment of the dish to a rapid conclusion

One highpoint was the sommelier, Marla, who was able to fine a nice Italian red to match the meal, which was well priced at $65. All-in all, we feel that Mr. Batali may have jumped the shark at Babbo.

As a side note, we had dinner at Lupa the night before, and while it was alright, it was not nearly as satisfying as the meal we had there a year ago.

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  1. I live in New York and usually sit upstairs and dress up a bit (more than jeans/polos/shorts) -- I think your impression may have been colored by the fact that it was Memorial Day weekend. I've certainly not felt out of place in a nice dress, with my fiance in a nice button-down shirt and jacket, although I have seen people show up dressed more casually than I would have dressed. However, Babbo is not a really formal restaurant, though, which has been mentioned many times on these boards, and many restaurants in NYC no longer require ties.

    Also, I'll note that you didn't happen to order any of the recommended dishes at Babbo. Also, the Batali philosophy is not to overdress the pastas -- the emphasis is on the pasta itself, not the sauce. Although they could probably do a better job managing people's expectations.

    I'm sorry you had a disappointing experience at Babbo, overall.

    1 Reply
    1. re: kathryn

      "what to order at Babbo" is definately the most popular topic discussed on this board, therefore just a little research on your part would have helped to avoid ordering as poorly as you did...and good observation by kathryn, It is hard to expect the best out of a restaurant during the middle of a holiday weekend..

    2. what's up with all the excuses for Babbo? I don't follow this "you ordered poorly" thought process. Maybe if you were at a Thai restaurant and ordered Ma Po Tofu I would follow but we're not talking about a hole in the wall establishment. If Batali decides that a dish is worthy of being on the menu then he believes it represents his abilities as a chef. If the dish is disappointing, how can you fault the eater? Also, the waiter even recommended one of her dishes.

      I went to Babbo and had the recommended dishes (love letters, goose liver ravioli etc...) and was disappointed. I recognize that I am in the minority there and am not trying to convince anyone that Babbo is bad. My only point is that if someone had a few bad dishes, there is no reason to hop to the defense of Babbo, especially by saying he/she ordered incorrectly.

      5 Replies
      1. re: demigodh

        because every restauarant has strengths and weaknesses, so playing to a place's strengths, particularly on your first visit, makes it more likely that you will have an enjoyable time. Ordering a mushroom crepe at Babbo seems foolish particularly given the library of info about the dishes at Babbo on chowhound...

        1. re: demigodh

          Not trying to "defend" Babbo at all as I believe that ANY dish on a "high end" restaurant menu should shine.......that said, to go there and order -essentially- no pastas would be like going to a steak-house and ordering only side-dishes and appetizers.

          As for the seating - I was a "tourist" and they sat me downstairs, and I was wearing jeans with a shirt, no tie, and leather blazer.

          I'd not call Babbo the best italian in town - but if you order right it is still a stellar meal.

          1. re: demigodh

            "they ordered poorly",, That is an absurd statement. Just because they dont go with other chowhounderes recs on what to order ,should not mean other dishes wont be good. A good restauarant should prepare all dishes well.. And all people do not have the same tastes.. Babbo is a hit and miss kind of restaurant, more miss than hit ,,and Lupa is far from anything special. As far as wearing ties go, Ties should never be required, that's another absurdity. Even french laundry doesnt require ties.

            1. re: foodwhisperer

              the original poster complained that the mushroom crepe was "nicely presented " but "bland" ...guess what, compared to the bold flavors of most of the popular Babbo dishes any mushroom crepe is bland! given the volumes of data on Babbo on chowhound the OG has search from , then you go and order a mushroom crepe??? im sure the crepe was prepared well, however you still ordered!

              1. re: Cpalms

                huh?...the OP stated that the waiter recommended the mushroom crepe...she also ordered a seasonal dish (softshell crab), and two pastas (supposedly Babbo's strong suit)...she didn't order the prevailing CH favorite dishes, but that's no reason to let the restaurant off the hook for a bad meal...

          2. Speaking only to the clothing situation--Babbo is not a jacket and tie restaurant. I'm not defending the shorts, but jeans and polo shirts are not uncommon, and not just on tourists. The upstairs is certainly not "reserved for tourists"--if anything, it tends to be less raucous and a bit more civilized up there.

            1 Reply
            1. re: planetjess

              I agree -- most of my local nyc friends request the upstairs when they want a quiet meal, away from the downstairs noise which some of them find gets in the way of their meal. Also, a lot of new yorkers (those who can afford to eat at babbo, etc) leave the city on holiday weekends, so any somewhat-upscale restaurant you go to over memorial day will likely be filled with out-of-towners. I'm always saying holiday weekends are great times to go to tough-to-get-into restaurants, since most new yorkers are gone and the lines tend to be shorter.

            2. You might have been lucky with your upstairs seating. Another chef friend and I dined there on May 18th (for the first time) and we were downstairs. The noise level was deafening. To the extent that neither of us will go back.

              And that's too bad, because the food was fantastic,and the service was exemplary.

              We ordered a la carte, and started with the Tripe Parmigiana -- superb! Chewy, tomatoey, and wonderful. Then to the Beef Cheeks Ravioli which I had been hearing about for eons -- really flavorful and satisfying. We chose the Fennel-dusted Sweetbreads, and neither of us have had them prepared better than these. Throughout, we kept seeing and smelling the Pappardelle Bolognese, so before dessert we ordered that and shared it, as well. Some of the best we have ever eaten.

              Dessert was good, not as awesome as the meal, and we had a well-priced ($33) bottle of Nebbiolo that complemented all our dishes.

              But the noise!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

              2 Replies
              1. re: ChefJune

                ChefJune-I hate loud restaurants, but I find upstairs at Babbo to be fine-downstairs is awful. We always ask for upstairs seating. You may want to try it again.

                As for dress-I'll quote from the website:
                "Babbo has a dress code best described as "smart casual". Jackets and ties are not required but not out of place at Babbo.
                Tank tops and flip flops are not suitable attire for the restaurant."

                And food-we just ate there again a few weeks ago, and went for the pasta tasting menu-I thought it was terrific. As were the wine pairings (we did spring for the higher-priced version).

                I would not for a moment defend the place-in fact, I wish more people thought it was terrible so I could get a table more easily (I just don't like eating at the bar.)

                1. re: David W

                  We are really not into making reservations a month in advance to dine anywhere (except maybe in another country). and walking in probably dooms one to downstairs. Even when one knows Mario!

              2. This NY'er, who has been to Babbo a good handful of times, prefers and requests to eat upstairs. I find the downstairs too loud, hectic, crowded and stressful. We also dress on the 'business casual' side.

                For me, Babbo excels at pasta and that's what we typically order. If you read posts, everyone has their own preferences and tastes, so I'll never tell someone else what to eat. I could 'live on pasta alone" and am steadily working my way through their pastas. We've done the pasta tasting menu a couple of times. We now create our own 'pasta tastings' as we find that we are too full for dessert.

                I can't imagine eating at the bar nor at any of the tables near the bar. The way it is packed, with people literally on top of each other, would make me choke on my food. That's not how I like to enjoy my meals, no matter how good the food is. So, again, we love the upstairs.